“Under the Sea” Coral Reef, costume design by Rafael Castanera

I cut a series of 6 pieces of coral out of 1/4" plastic using a bandsaw. The two outer pieces on either side are mirror images, while the two center pieces are slightly different.

The height of the piece required additional support, so I attached wire (from coat hangers) along the lengths of the most critical spots. Wiring every branch was unnecessary and would have added too much weight.

To give dimension to the coral, I cut 1/2" foam tubing in half and covered the front surface of every branch with it.

detail showing application of foam tubing to the plastic

Prior to wrapping all of the coral, I spray painted it red because the material was slightly sheer.

Once it was all wrapped, each of the 6 pieces was permanently attached to a solid backing made of a slightly curved piece of thermoplastic. This curve matched the curve of the actress’s back. This unit was then glued to the wonder flex backpack and is supported by a series of “blocks” made of layered foam board. These supports are very strong and light-weight.

actress Audra Cramer as the Coral Reef in 'Under the Sea."

costume design by Rafael Castanera

I constructed each of the 3 fish by cutting the body shape out of thin plastic, then adding a 2" piece of foam on either side. I then carved down the foam into an appropriate shape.

Before covering the body of each fish, I covered each side in batting to smooth it out.

I made the dorsal fins of doubled-up Wonderflex. The two fins for each of the shoulder fish are mirror images. The curve of each fin is such that the tip is directly in-line with the base when looking at them from the front.

using spray adhesive, I covered the Wonderflex fins in blue organza.

The eyes for the larger fish (on her head) are made of buttons glued to larger plastic circles, then covered in white spandex.

I formed the base of the lips form thermoplastic molded around each fish’s nose. I then glued foam on top of this plastic base and carved the lips, then covered them. Rather than sculpting an upper and lower lip, I drilled a series of holes across the middle of the plastic base and used hymark to pull the foam down along this line.

I also made the side fins of Wonderflex, while the tails are made of thicker thermoplastic which I only slightly curved to match the curve of the body. The black edging is millinery wire which I wrapped and glued along the edges. I chose millinery wire because it was easy to shape and also lightweight.

The fish were glued to the backpack and headpiece and then supported with small Christmas ornaments to mimc bubbles.

Actress Kacie Burns.

The curly additions at the tips of each fin were ultimately cut because of issues with the involved choreography for the number. The side fins of the fish on the headpiece were also swing-tacked together so they would not get caught on the shoulder fish.

Tigerfish, design by Rafael Castanera

Each fin of the backpack and headpiece was individually patterned to have corresponding stripes.

I used wonder-under to attach the colored stripes to the black. Out of the pink and blue material, I made long strips from which each stripe was traced and cut. I then ironed the stripes onto the fins, on top of the black fabric.

I cut all of the fins of thin plastic, then covered them in black fabric as a base. The colored stripes were then individually applied on each side of all fins.

A small amount of extra material was left at the tops and/or bottoms of some of the stripes so that the next stripe could be laid down more easily (without having to worry about having a thin black line show through between the pink and blue).

pieces for the mohawk

the 6 fins for the backpack.

Lani Corson as the Tigerfish in her final fitting (minus the rest of the costume)

Kissy Fish, design by Rafael Castanera

The body was constructed exactly as with the blue fishes. Two pieces of foam sandwich a plastic middle piece, and each half is covered in batting.

These are 1/2" strips of aluminum I used to create the curly pieces that extend on the edges of all the fins. After I shaped them, I covered them in white tape and wrapped them in the same material I used to cover the fish.

The middle plastic piece for this fish was not exactly the same shape as the foam pieces. It is plexiglass and there is extra at the back of the top and bottom fin and at the back of the tail. I covered it in yellow organza which was then painted for dimension.

After I glued each half of the body to the plexiglass middle, I stitched the fabric together along the edge to hide the “seam.”

The shoulder fins are also made of plexiglass covered in organza, while the piece that hangs from the belt is made of Wonderflex (also covered in yellow organza).

To give more dimension to the shoulder and belt fins, I cut pieces of plastic to go along the edges of each piece and padded the center of these plastic pieces with 1" foam. I then covered these pieces in the same material as the fish before I attached them to the fins.

The wrist cuffs are made of 2 layers of Wonderflex.

The wrist cuffs are also covered in yellow organza.

I constructed these lips exactly as the others, except I sculpted an individual upper and lower lip for this piece.

The eyelashes are plumes which I split along the spine and the glued to the edge of the eyelid. The paint treatment was done by pinning small foam shapes to the body, then spray painting the pink. The foam pieces were then removed.

wrist cuff after finishing detail

fins attached to backpack and hip belt.

Giant Clam, design by Rafael Castanera

The base of the clam shell is constructed of aluminum strips, each of which is identically shaped.

After shaping the pieces, I laid a line of blue tape along each side of the strips because the fabric I used to wrap it was somewhat sheer, and it gave better color.

To attach each of the segments and give it a curve that would match the actor’s back, I glued wooden dowel rods between the segments in the back, while in the front the edges of the segment are touching.

I made the circles at the top of boning and glued them in place prior to wrapping the unit in fabric.

The braces for the bottom portion of the shell are cut of thin plastic and also covered in matching fabric.

This unit was attached to the backpack much the same as the coral reef– a series of support blocks made of layered foam board.

The pearl for the headpiece is a styrofoam ball which I covered in masking tape and painted with pearlescent paint. I then watered down Elmers glue and sponged it onto the surface, then sprinkled glitter all over it.

Under the Sea

My work on these costumes consisted of creating all of the headpieces and backpacks, with the exception of Starfish. The headpieces are Wonderflex skullcaps which were covered in various fabrics. The “backpacks” which feature the main character element of each costume (Giant Clam, Coral Reef, Kissy Fish, Tiger Fish, and the Blue Fishes) are built on a Wonderflex base. I created a simple backpack made of 2 layers of Wonderlfex– these backpacks extended half-way down each actress’s back and had two shoulder tabs which hooked to their bras in front. Each element was then constructed as a separate unit and attached to the backpack in various ways.

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”